COLUMN: Dean of Health: Yes, the energy crisis is putting pressure on us, but our work and study environment must remain our top priority
Although faculties are busy dealing with inflation, the energy crisis and declining numbers of school leavers – and political initiatives – this must not be at the expense of our work and study environment, claims Dean of Health Anne-Mette Hvas in her Omnibus column.
Like other institutions and companies, universities have been under pressure in recent years – partly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which have led to inflation and an energy crisis. We are facing a decline in the number of school leavers and an increased dependence on external funding, and we are once again discussing a reform commission and the former government’s proposal “Danmark kan mere III” – even though the last 20 years have seen at least one reform or political initiative being introduced in the university sector every year (see the list below).
When we are faced with upheavals and crises, we often automatically focus our attention and resources on dealing with them; we try to prevent, offset and counteract their negative effects.
But even in uncertain times, or perhaps especially in uncertain times, we need to ensure that the university remains a place that we and others are keen to be a part of. We need to continue to develop a workplace culture and a study environment that enable us to conduct excellent research, excel in teaching, and produce highly qualified graduates. If we fail to do this, there is a risk that staff and students will lose motivation, that sick leave levels will increase, and that the quality of our degree programmes and research will decline. There is a risk that we will be less able to contribute to solving the major societal challenges of today.
No, the WPA is not just a formality
This is no easy task. There is no quick fix – on the contrary, nurturing our work and study environment requires multiple approaches and a joint concerted effort. At Health, we are currently looking at the workplace assessment (WPA) in great detail.
On a bad day, employees might think that the WPA is just a formality we all have to go through. But these questionnaires about the psychological and physical work environment at AU – which employees complete every three years – are one of the best tools we have to identify issues that require our attention. And, as a faculty, we take our WPA follow-up extremely seriously.
This is why we have appointed a WPA advisory group at faculty level, which will shine a spotlight on cross-disciplinary issues that affect us all. The group consists of heads of departments and employees, and as dean I will follow the group’s – and the individual departments’ – work closely.
Focus on career paths and unwanted sexual attention
The WPA advisory group, the faculty’s liaison committees, and the faculty’s committee for gender equality have identified two areas that require focus and action. The first is transparent career paths and career guidance. Because the WPA – and the drop-out rate among women on the academic career ladder – shows how important it is that early career researchers understand their career opportunities and that career options are transparent.
The second area is unwanted sexual attention. Previously at Health, we developed a dilemma card game, which initiated a discussion on responsible research practice. We now plan to use this tool in relation to the debate on unwanted sexual attention, because the WPA shows that it still exists, despite the fact that our workplace culture takes a zero-tolerance approach to it.
Both of these areas will be the object of intense focus for the heads of departments, the vice-deans of education and research, the WPA advisory group, Health’s committee on gender equality (which also includes students), and many others at the faculty.
We have a shared responsibility
Of course, this is not enough. If we wish to create an environment in which we can all realise our potential, we need to make a shared concerted effort – even in the midst of crises. We must be clear about what we understand by a good culture and what we expect from each other. And we must follow up on areas that don’t meet our expectations.
It is our shared responsibility to make sure that we can all thrive at AU – and that we have the university we want and deserve. Every day – and not only every three years, when we complete our questionnaires.
This column was published in Omnibus on 3 November 2022
Selection of reforms and political initiatives that affect university degree programmes:
- Relocation of student places, 2022
- Agreement on flexible degree programmes, 2018
- Restrictions on number of international students, 2018
- Institutional accreditation 2.0, 2019
- Committee for better university degree programmes, 2018
- Governance reform (introduction of framework contracts), 2017
- New funding system, 2017
- Establishment of Master's degree programme for working professionals, 2017
- Degree programme cap, 2016-2020
- Adjustment of study progress reform, 2016
- Act on talent initiatives, 2014
- Degree programme resizing, 2014
- SU and study progress reform, 2013
- Pre-qualification of higher education degree programmes, 2013
- Internationalisation strategy, 2013
- Institutional accreditation, 2013
- Education targets (60 per cent of school leavers must complete a post-secondary education programme / 25 per cent must complete a long-cycle post-secondary education programme), 2011
- Introduction of completion bonus, 2009
- Qualification framework for life-long learning, 2009
- Reform of admission requirements (requirements specific to main academic area), 2008
- Elite graduate programme, 2008
- Degree programme accreditation, 2007
- Employer panels, 2007
- New grading system (and learning outcome requirements for individual courses), 2006
- Quick-start bonus, 2006-2017
- Development contracts, 2006
- Welfare agreement and Globalisation agreement (95%-50% targets), 2004, 2016
- University reform (mergers in 2007), 2003, 2005